One of the perks to living in the Middle-East and particularly Saudi-Arabia is the amazing travel opportunities it opens up. Many places become geographically closer for expats from the Americas, Europe and Asia. Travel is also relatively affordable and there are direct flights and good flight connections from Saudi and the GCC countries. Some of the cheap airlines have great promos and affordable prices around the Middle East. What’s pretty cool about working in Saudi arabia is the annual leave! Many expats in KSA get more than 50 days a year paid annual leave. That leaves plenty of time to explore the surroundings.I know many will agree with me that taking a breather from Saudi Arabia can do wonders for the spirit! At least for me, in order to keep the mind and body healthy I need a regular “escape” from the restrictions Saudi places on me as a female. Getting away from all the dust and taking in the sea breeze and fresh air is also a must for me as an asthmatic.
Some destinations are great for a weekend getaway and others I would recommend for more than a week long holiday. The possibilities are really endless! The following are my personal favorites as a traveler that prefers the roads less traveled and places to connect with nature and wildlife. That’s why you won’t find Bahrain or Dubai on my Top Ten! Not that there’s anything wrong with the two for just a quick escape.. but on this list I want to focus more on the quality of the destinations in terms of historical value, local culture, local food, unique nature.
My top 10 places to travel to from Saudi-Arabia: (in no particular order!)
The reason I like Qatar so much is that it manages to keep its traditions alive without drowning in the commercial madness like neighbors Dubai and Bahrain. Qatar has almost a small town feel to it despite the emerging skyscrapers. Some of the ME best museums and cultural villages can be found here. The numerous souqs have been restored and wandering among them feels like stepping back in time. Qatar also has great restaurants and beaches for those in search of a beach holiday!
The current security situation is a serious concern, but if the is clear, Yemen is a MUST VISIT destination. Purely from the historical point of view, Yemen and especially the capital Sana’a are unique, world-class destination. The architecture, the landscape, the people, the culture..It’s too much to even begin to describe I will only say, If you ever have a chance to visit Yemen, do not miss out on it.
IMHO, the world’s most hospitable people are the Omanis. I have never felt so welcomed, my every need and wish catered to with such genuine, overwhelming hospitality than what I experienced in Oman. Some examples of the Omani people’s character: I traveled there alone so I felt a bit awkward at times as a female in an Arab country. However I was not harassed once while there. One afternoon as I was collecting small pink seashells from the beach, a group of young Omani boys that were playing football on the beach came to help me. At first I found it odd, but after a while I realized they genuinely just wanted to help me. We had fun searching for the pink ones and managed to gather a large amount. I thanked them, and being accustomed to little boys only doing such arduous jobs for tourists for money I thought to myself, they surely want to get paid now! As I was handing over some cash telling them to go buy ice cream they all firmly refused. I was insisting but they declined and smiled and told me it was a gift. I thought it was the perfect example how Omanis don’t see tourists as only walking money machines but as honored guests to their beautiful country.
Oman has many places worth seeing, the capital Muscat has a mystical feel to it and it’s nothing like the other busy, crowded and materialistic GCC countries. The country is full of interesting historical sites and amazing landscapes. Oman is one of the few places in the world where tourists can be 100% sure to be able to watch sea turtles come to shore to lay their eggs in the middle of the night.
4. Sri Lanka
Easy and cheap to reach from Riyadh with a direct flight, Sri Lanka is a charming little island in the Indian Ocean. A nice combination of nature,history, culture and friendly people, Sri Lanka has surprisingly many options for the traveler despite its small size. The magnificent tea farms and majestic mountains make for wonderful trekking opportunities! There are palaces and temples to explore, delicious spicy food to enjoy and bustling little cities and towns nestled in the mountains waiting to be explored. And of course some pretty amazing beaches!
5. Jordan Very easily reachable from Saudi even for an extended weekend, Jordan is an absolute must see destination! From Amman the Dead Sea is quick to reach and the spas dotted along its coast are just divine! Movenpick Dead Sea Resort and Spa is absolutely gorgeous! The hotel has a tranquil atmosphere, an amazing spa, several different pools all overlooking the Dead Sea, relaxing treatments and great restaurants.
The world famous tombs of the Nabatean people can be seen in ancient city of Petra. This place is crowded with tourists year round and its best to book early for peak seasons. The ancient city of Petra is surrounded by the most strangely shaped, beautifully colored mountains. Jordan has plenty of other historical sites and a beach destination Aqaba as well.
6. Hong Kong
The dynamic Hong Kong has something for everyone! Superb shopping, delicious food, beautiful and surprising scenery. Worth a visit on its own but also great for a stop-over when continuing further East.
The best safari experience I had so far has been in Serengeti and Ngorongoro crater. Especially during the great migration this place is truly magical! A visit to Tanzania would not be complete without seeing Zanzibar, the Spice Island! One of those few places left where the only people on the beach besides you are the local fishermen. Amazing diving!
Saudi-Arabia’s tiny little neighbor is greatly under valued as a tourist destination. Only an hour flight away from Riyadh, Kuwait is definitely worth a weekend trip and great for a quick getaway from Saudi. Personally I like the more quiet vibe here which is a nice change to the busy and crowded Dubai for example. Read more about Kuwait here.
Very popular among Saudi tourists, Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi are the best know destinations in Malaysia. But this country has so much more to offer! Diving, trekking, history, rain forests, wildlife, architecture, shopping..Malaysians are known for their courtesy and fabulous food! My absolute favorite place in Malaysia is the tiny island of Perhentian Kecil!
Last but definitely not least, Turkey, particularly Istanbul is an amazing destination and super easy to get to from Saudi Arabia. Check out Blue Abaya’s post on Istanbul to understand why you shouldn’t miss it!
The ultimate honeymoon and couples destination is easily reached with a 6 hour flight from Riyadh. Picture perfect beaches, luxury over water bungalows and world-class diving await the visitors.
Now I’ve caught the travel bug!! What places would you add to the list?